It’s trite, but I’ve always felt lucky to be part of the “Harry Potter generation”. I was the girl queueing at the bookshop at midnight, the girl furiously jealous when the films were announced and cast with children just like me, the girl dressed up in robes to go to the cinema the day they were released – and a new world began to build, that felt even more real than the fantasy in our imaginations.
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts celebrated that even greater privilege: being part of the team creating that world – and how real it was for everyone involved.
Marking two decades since the first in the eight-film, 10-year-long saga, this reunion brought together key members of the cast to share their memories – including the adventures’ central trio Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson, who as ever, in eloquence and charisma, felt like the real star here), many of the top British thespians who supported them, from Robbie Coltrane to Jason Isaacs to Helena Bonham Carter to Gary Oldman, and producers and all three directors.
In a glittering production, soundtracked by John Williams’ beloved score, the thirtysomethings (Grint felt old – “I’ve had kidney stones and a baby”) embraced and paced the corridors of the Warner Brothers set in Watford, remembering their childhoods, from their first auditions to their raging hormones to their final, devastated goodbyes.
Early archive footage of the children was charming, as they giggled playing “slaps” between takes; the stars revealed how unaware they were of the towering reputations of Maggie Smith and Julie Walters, who took them under their wing; and revealed on-set secrets – the late Richard Harris believed Fawkes the animatronic phoenix was a real bird – and remembered their horror as, at the very end, Grint and Watson had to kiss. All this, and the sense of their shared connection, was a delight for grown-up fans, and for the most part felt sincere, rather than simperingly indulgent or gimmicky (like one Friends reunion I could mention).
However as has been reported endlessly in the news, there was one notable absence, along with the late cast members like Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths and Helen McCrory: JK Rowling.
Though invited, she did not take part – her team have said this decision was not related to any controversial statements about trans people, from which all three Harry Potter stars have distanced themselves. It felt like confirmation of this cultural phenomenon’s uncomfortable legacy, which it’s clear nobody’s quite sure yet how to address – “Jo” was mentioned throughout, and interview footage from 2019 was spliced in. It was probably judicious not to engage in the debate in a cosy Christmas special.
Where the interviews did venture a little further, but not far enough, was into the bleaker impact of childhood fame on this scale. Grint spoke about how late into the series, he began to wonder where Ron stopped and Rupert began. “Even my name didn’t feel like my name. I felt like I could only do one thing”.
Around the same time, Watson was considering pulling out altogether – Grint and Radcliffe were both young men together, but she was the only woman with that stardom and pressure, and the loneliness took its toll. All three have been more open elsewhere, but I wished the specifics of this had been pushed a little harder – that there was discussion of how Watson was sexualised too young, how they were treated by the media, what mental health support or coping strategies were available at that time, what could have been different, or indeed what convinced her to stay.
Still, in the end, this special film felt magical – and just the right side of sentimental, giving us a sense of a story that was era-defining for fans and life-defining for its cast. Thrillingly, it managed to transport me to my childhood and to that same sense of joy and jealousy I had at 10, wishing I could be Hermione myself.
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